Two prominent legal cases affecting Napa County – those involving Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk John Tuteur and Bremer Family Winery—continue to see red-letter court dates delayed.
As of Friday, no new dates had been set for either case by Napa County Superior Court as each case winds through various complications.
The 2017-18 grand jury accused Tuteur of four counts of “willful or corrupt misconduct” and seeks his removal from office. Tuteur court filings called the accusations a “misadventure” and a “waste of judicial and public resources.”
A court hearing for Tuteur to respond to the accusations was scheduled for April 24, then multiple times thereafter, most recently for Oct. 19. All dates were canceled amid Tuteur’s efforts to obtain grand jury materials through discovery.
The court in early May unsealed transcripts of the grand jury’s interviews with witnesses. But Tuteur also wants to obtain grand jury investigative notes, the original complaint from an Assessor’s Office employee and other materials.
Superior Court Judge Mark Boessenecker in May granted Tuteur’s discovery request and the grand jury filed an appeal with the state’s First District Court of Appeal. The wait to settle the matter has stalled the Tuteur case.
Attorney Steven Piser in a court filing on behalf of the grand jury called the sought-after notes and other materials “confidential.” He wrote that he was representing the grand jury for free and not at the county’s expense.
The state Attorney General’s Office, which brought the grand jury charges to court as required by law, had no objections to Tuteur’s discovery request.
“In order for Tuteur to exercise his right to object to the accusations, he has to be afforded the means to do so,” a May 11 filing by the Attorney General’s Office said.
Tuteur in an Oct. 4 press release said he is frustrated by the postponements caused by “the delaying tactics of the 2017-18 grand jury foreperson.”
The grand jury accused Tuteur of failing to pay back taxes following an assessment error and taking various actions involving farmland policies – possibly self-serving, since he owns a ranch – that cost the county and other jurisdictions tax money.
The other case that has seen delays is Napa County’s lawsuit against Bremer Family Winery in the mountains east of St. Helena for allegedly breaking county rules. To the surprise of county officials, the case could have larger implications for the county’s ability to restrict winery activities.
The Bremer trial after several delays was to begin in Napa County Superior Court last Tuesday. Instead, Judge Victoria Wood recused herself from the case.
Wood couldn’t be reached to state the reason for recusing herself. Court records don’t elaborate on the recusal.
Napa County in court papers called Bremer winery “a continuing public nuisance.” It accused the winery of doing everything from producing too much wine to having too many visitors.
But a tentative court ruling referred to in court papers apparently agreed with the Bremers’ interpretation of the winery’s 39-year-old use permit. Under this interpretation, the visitor limitations don’t apply because they appear only in the original winery application, not in the Planning Commission conditions of approval.
“If the tentative ruling becomes final, it would potentially have significant and widespread impact on the county and its regulation of the wine industry and zoning in general,” a county court filing said.
Judge Diane Price is to hold a trial management conference on Tuesday.